From A to Z: A Glossary Of 135 Construction Terms & Definitions

1. Adhesive: A substance that sticks to materials or allows objects to stick together, such as resin, epoxy, and glue. Adhesives are often applied with a caulking gun.

2. Aggregate: A particulate material made of sand or crushed stone, gravel, recycled concrete, etc.—it is a fundamental part of building foundations.

3. Agile project management: Adapting to a situation as it develops, making changes to a project as needed. Project management software like “BuilderTrend” and “Co-Construct” can be helpful in implementing Agile project management.

4. All-in rate: The total expenses for a project, including direct and indirect costs. “Direct costs” are the actual materials, trade and labor costs. “Indirect costs” are overhead items like insurance, gas, rent, phones, etc.

5. Alternate bid: An amount that may increase or decrease the base bid if the project scope change meets approval.

6. Appraisal: The opinion a cost consultant provides concerning a property’s valuation.

7. Architect: A qualified individual or organization responsible for designing and planning structures for construction—they complete drawings for the building process.

8. ASTM: The American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) is an international standards organization that creates technical construction standards for products, systems, services, and materials.

9. Back charge: Money held back or charged to a contractor after a project ends to cover the cost of an expense, damage, or incomplete work.

10. Backfill: Refilling an excavated hole with the material dug out previously.

11. BAS: A building automation system (BAS) is an energy management system that connects and automates interior functions, centralizing control of a building’s electrical, HVAC, fire, security systems, etc.

12. Beam: Material, often made from steel or wood, that spans across a building to support the floor or roof.

13. Bearing Capacity: Whenever a load is placed on the ground, such as from a crane, or a retaining wall, the ground must have the capability to hold it without extra settlement or failure. Bearing capacity is the capacity of soil to support the loads that apply to the ground above. Deeper the depth of embedment of the load, stronger will be the bearing capacity.

14. BIM: Building information modeling (BIM) involves creating a computer model of a building, including details of that structure— from its basic layout to the smallest measurements.

15. Blocking: Short pieces of lumber to join, fill, or reinforce a structure to increase strength.

16. Blueprint: A design or technical drawing that includes crucial construction details.

17. BOQ: A bill of quantity (BOQ) is a contract document that features all workmanship and materials to better price a project.

18. Bottleneck: A point in construction where trade workers must complete or clear items before more work can continue—for example, waiting on the delivery of materials or equipment.

19. Box crib: Temporary wooden structures used to support heavy objects during construction.

20. Builder: Typically, the builder is the primary construction contractor, distributing contracts to all other parties.

21. Building code: Construction requirements enacted into law and enforced by government agencies—all parties must follow this set of rules when planning and building.

22. CAD: Computer-aided design is the software used to create, modify, analyze, and optimize a design.

23. Cantilever: A long, projecting beam supported only on one end.

24. Cast-in-Place Concrete: A construction technique where a temporary formwork is prepared to shape concrete slabs and foundations, as well as components such as beams, columns, walls,
roofs, and so on, until it hardens. It is also known as “poured-in- place” concrete,

25. Catastrophic failure: An abrupt and irrecoverable mishap within the construction process. It makes it unsafe for use unless the entire structure is rebuilt.

26. Caulking: A type of sealant that prevents water and moisture from getting into cracks and crevices. It is commonly used around pipes, windows, and doors.

27. Cavity Wall: This is constructed with two distinct walls separated by an air space. These two walls act like a single wall and are joined by metal ties. They offer good sound insulation properties.

28. Circuit: A complete path that electricity flows through.

29. Change order: A document that changes or modifies an element of a project—either the plans, price, or specifications.

30. Cladding: This is any material fixed to outside of a structure to form non-structural external “skin” that covers its exterior. Just as your skin protects internal bones and organs, cladding protects against the elements and shields against environmental conditions or to make it look more attractive.

31. Cofferdam: A watertight enclosure that allows an area to be pumped out or drained to ensure a dry, safe working environment.

32. Commissioning: This stage involves testing and verifying the functionality of all systems and equipment, ensuring compliance with building codes and specifications. This includes inspections, system testing and building envelope testing.

33. Commercial projects: Commercial-based construction, such as office buildings, restaurants, or hotels.

34. Concrete: A building material made of sand, gravel, and water poured into molds or forms. It is used for posts, driveways, slabs, foundations, etc.

35. Concrete Cover: This is reinforced concrete, is the minimum thickness of concrete embedded over the reinforcement steel. It is measured from the exposed concrete surface to the closest reinforced steel surface. Concrete cover protects the steel from harmful influences such as aggressive solutions and fire.

36. Contract: A formal, legally binding agreement.

37. Construction: This is the main stage of the project where the actual construction work takes place. This includes site excavation, foundation, framing, installation of mechanical and electrical systems, interior finishing, and exterior cladding.

38. Construction daily reports: A documented record of field notes, including weather conditions, work completed, materials delivered, etc.

39. Construction Management Software: Software used to manage many aspects of a project.

40. Construction Drawings: The final pre-construction drawings of the entire building that are incorporated into tender documentation. These drawings guide the construction process by depicting a structure’s dimensions, installation materials and other factors. They are prepared by architects and engineers.

41. Construction Estimate: Estimate assessing of all the costs of building a structure to determine the feasibility of the project. These costs include direct costs, indirect costs, overhead costs and a profit margin for the general contractor.

42. Consultant: Someone who provides professional advice throughout varying stages of construction.

43. Cost-plus contract: A contract where a contractor receives payment for all expenses plus a payment for profit.

44. CPM: Critical path method (CPM) is used for project scheduling. Managers can leverage software to break down required activities and tasks for generating necessary timelines.

45. CRM: Customer relationship management is software used to manage interactions and relationships with company clients—both existing and new.

46. Cross bracing: X-shaped, diagonal supports that improve structural performance and stability.

47. CQC: Contractor quality control.

48. Damp-Proofing: Dampness and moisture are among the most common construction problems. This procedure prevents the absorption of moisture into walls.

49. Datum: The point of reference for which future measurements can be made—especially for leveling.

50. Dead Load: The amount of weight a slab or similar structure can support, including the weight of the structure, cladding, fixed equipment, etc.

51. Demolition: The act of knocking down or destroying a structure.

52. Dependencies: Tasks that contractors must complete before the next task can begin, such as running wiring before installing electrical features.

53. Derrick barge: Floating cranes, often used for offshore construction.

54. Diagrid: Framework of diagonally intersecting material, such as metal, wood, or concrete, used in the construction of buildings.

55. Drill: A standard power tool used to drive screws into walls, floors, and other applications/materials. Drill bits can also drill out holes— for example, to run wiring through wall studs.

56. Drywall: Paneling used for walls and ceilings (also referred to as plasterboard).

57. Ducts: Passages for ventilation, heating, and air systems to direct air throughout a structure or building.

58. Elevation: An architect-created drawing that shows one side of the building, showcasing the finished appearance and height dimensions—four elevations are typically drawn.

59. Encasement: The encasing or covering of all interior and exterior building components, including roofing and piping.

60. Estimate: The approximate pre-construction cost to help managers or project planners create a budget.

61. Excavation: The operation, tools, and equipment used to move rock, dirt, and other materials. This process is often necessary for foundations and building roads.

62. Falsework: Temporary structures that support a separate structure while under construction—such as temporary steelwork, scaffolding, etc.

63. Feasibility study: The study a developer conducts to determine the demand and financial viability of an area for a proposed project.

64. Field Measure: A survey where measurements are taken of an existing structure to ensure that each component will fit as intended within the space. It improves the overall accuracy of the installation.

65. Floor Plan: This shows the arrangement of rooms, spaces and physical features viewed from one level of a structure. They provide a way to visualize how people will move through the spaces.

66. Footing: The portion of a building’s foundation that helps redistribute a structure’s weight from the foundation into the earth and soil below.

67. Foreman: A construction site’s leading supervisor in charge of a work crew—ensures the completion of daily tasks based on the established timeline.

68. Formwork: The molds used to form concrete for structural purposes. It cautiously supports the reinforced concrete until it has reached adequate strength.

69. Foundation: The base of a structure that anchors and supports it as the lowest load-bearing part of a building.

70. General contractor: The person responsible for day-to-day oversight of a site. They typically work directly with the property owners.

71. Girder: The main horizontal structure member with the capacity to support larger concentrated loads, such as columns or beams. I can be made from a variety of construction materials such as concrete, stainless steel, or a combination of both and may comprise a single piece.

72. Green-star rating: An internationally recognized rating system to verify a building or community project is sustainable.

73. Handover and Closeout: The final stage of the construction project life cycle involves turning over the completed project to the owners or end-users. This includes final inspections, punch lists, final payments, and warranty and maintenance agreements.

74. Holdback: Typically, 10% of a contract is held back to protect the buyer. Withholding this portion of the invoice ensures work completion.

75. HUD: Housing and urban development.

76. HVAC: This term stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. It is a system designed to achieve the environmental requirements of the comfort of occupants. It uses electricity and coolant liquid to reduce the temperature of the air, while sending hot air outside and clod air inside.

77. Inspection: The review process to ensure construction complies with contract, zoning, and code requirements.

78. Insulation: The material placed in the walls and ceiling to stop heat and sound from exiting or entering a space.

79. Joist: Horizontal elements connected to a perpendicular beam for load transfer—for example, floor joists. It acts like the skeleton of the building.

80. Jigsaw: A power tool used for cutting curves and shapes, typically in wood.

81. Lean construction: A process that maximizes value while minimizing waste. It emphasizes team collaboration. It ensures that a project is instantly done, and lower costs are incurred during the building process.

82. Lien: A claim contractors or subcontractors make for unpaid work on a project they completed adequately.

83. Lintel: a horizontal beam made of stone, iron or steel that supports the weight over an opening such as a window or doorway.

84. Live load: An engineering term for loads that are not constant, referring to anything that enters or leaves a building—such as people, furniture, vehicles, etc. Since the weight of live loads can impact the stability of a structure, it helps engineers calculate maximum occupancy.

85. Load-Bearing Wall: Walls that are constructed to support the weight of a roof or second story floor.

86. Lookout: Wooden joist that cantilevers from the exterior wall to support the sheathing phase while providing a nailing surface for the fascia. The eaves of a house are nailed to these lookouts.

87. MEP: Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing are the technical aspects that make a building habitable for occupants.

88. Moling: A trenchless method that is used to install underground pipes, cables, and ducts.

89. Mortar: A mixture of sand, cement and water to bind materials, such as brick, stone, and block.

90. NIC: Stands for “not in contract.”

91. Pallet: A flat, wooden platform for storing or moving materials— typically with a forklift.

92. Particle board: Sheets or panels made from sawdust and resin.

93. Plywood: Strong, thin wooden boards made from two or more layers glued together—often sold in 4’x8′ sheets.

94. Pony Wall: A short wall, typically 3 to 4 feet tall.

95. Pre-Construction: This stage involves detailed planning, budgeting, scheduling, and coordination with subcontractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Activities during this stage also include site preparation, material procurement, and establishment of temporary facilities.

96. Preliminary drawings: Drawings created during a project’s early stages.

97. Procurement: The act of obtaining a service or product.

98. Project Manager: An experienced construction professional who handles the entire management of the project. They inspect all prospects of the building process, particularly scheduling, ordering and accounts.

99. Punch List: A detailed document listing work that doesn’t meet the customer’s specifications.

100. Purlin: A horizontal beam across the length of a roof that adds structural support.

101. PVC: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a common form of plastic, often used to make PVC pipes. White plastic pipes used for plumbing to carry water.

102. Quantity Take-off: A detailed measurement of materials and labors during the pre-construction phase. It helps the project developers have full knowledge of what to expect during the construction phase.

103. Rainscreen: a sheeting layer on the outside of the home allows water inside the wall to escape. It creates space between the vapor barrier and the exterior skin, whether that is stucco, siding or brick.

104. Rafter: The supporting (usually sloping) timbers that support a roof.

105. Reflected Ceiling Plan (RCP): An architectural drawing where the plan of a ceiling is projected on a flat plane showing the placement of various objects like sprinklers, smoke detectors, and any other mechanical or electrical objects on the ceiling using symbols.

106. Renovation: The remodeling or reconstruction of a building to enhance aesthetics or adhere to safety requirements.

107. Request for Proposal (RFP): A request for bids on a project.

108. Rim joist: Also known as a band board, the rim joist provides lateral support to end joists.

109. Rough-in: This construction stage is when contractors install electrical, mechanical, and plumbing lines into the project. The basic
framing is complete, but the final connections still require completion.

110. RTT: Requester for tender (RTT) invites vendors to submit bids to supply services and products to complete a project.

111. Rubblization: The process of breaking up worn-out concrete into small pieces to use as a base material.

112. Schematic Design: A conceptual plan showing the location of program spaces at a scaled size, providing a basic overview of the proposed building design.

113. Scope of work: A document outlining the construction project’s work.

114. Shiplap: Wooden board paneling used for exterior or interior finishing—boards are rabbeted to create an overlapping joint.

115. Shoring: Temporary braces used to provide temporary support to structures during construction until the structure can support itself.

116. Skirting: A strip that covers the lowest part of an interior wall covering surface to protect the wall from kicks, abrasion and furniture. It also serves as a decorative moldings.

117. Slab/Concrete Slab: A flat, level surface made of concrete, often used as a foundation for buildings.

118. SOW: Scope of work.

119. Specifications: A detailed statement of project particulars, including prescribed materials, methods, and quality of work. Specifications follow a format that typically aligns with the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) standards.

120. Studs: This framing element refers to upright supports in the walls of buildings. It is also used to attach drywall, sheathing, etc.

121. Subcontractor: A person or business that performs part of the work specified in another, larger contract.

122. Subfloor: The foundation layer below the flooring surface offers a structurally flat surface, most commonly constructed with plywood.

123. Substructure: An underlying structure, such as a foundation below a house. It is the portion of the building that sits below the ground.

124. Superstructure: A structure built on top of another structure— such as a house built on top of a foundation.

125. Table saw: A versatile saw used to cut across (crosscut) or with a wood’s grain (rip).

126. Takeoff: A list of the types and quantities of materials needed for a phase of the construction project—or for it to be completed in its entirety.

127. Trade: An occupation or craft typically involving manual skill, such as a plumber, framer, or electrician.

128. Trim: Another term for molding, trim is used for decorative and practical purposes to encase windows and doors or trim out ceilings, floors, and cabinets.

129. Truss: A structural framework of wood or metal used to support a roof or bridge.

130. Underpinning: A technique used to strengthen the foundation of an existing structure by adding beams, base pining, or concrete.

131. Vapor barrier: A material used to prevent the passage of moisture into a building, such as plastic sheeting or foil-backed paper. Tyvek is a well-known brand of “house wrap”.

132. VIF: Stands for “verify in field,” indicating that the dimensions on a drawing require additional verification at the site.

133. Warping: Deformity in wood from changes in moisture content.

134. Wiring: The electrical system of a building, including the wiring, switches, and outlets.

135. Zoning: A method in which a municipality divides lands into zones—each with its own set of regulations and acceptable use.

By Dan Bawden, CAPS, GMB, CGR, CGP, and President of Legal Eagle Contractors.